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COVID-19 Testing

As we settle into our new normal, many people may think that COVID-19 testing may soon fall out of use. However, regardless of changing local regulations or mask mandates being dropped, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is still around, and the reality is that Covid testing is here to stay. From schools and workplaces to going on that dream vacation abroad, there are many places that require negative Covid tests in order to access their facilities in-person. In order to understand this process, we have gathered common questions about COVID-19 testing for your reference so that next time you go to get a Covid test, you are informed and equipped with the knowledge you need.

What are the different types of Covid tests?

There are two general categories of Covid tests that have different testing types under each. The two categories of Covid tests are:

Viral Test

A viral test is what tells you if you have a current infection. The tests that fall under this category are nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) and antigen tests. 

The NAATs tests are more commonly known as the PCR tests. Wondering exactly what is a PCR covid test? The basic PCR covid test meaning is “polymerase chain reaction,” which refers to the method of testing that occurs. PCR tests are considered the most accurate type of Covid test.

Antigen tests are more commonly known as “rapid response” tests and are frequently used when people need a quick answer, since they can give a result in as little as fifteen minutes. The accuracy of the antigen tests is not as high as the PCR tests. 

Antibody Test

These tests, sometimes called serology tests, can tell you if you have had Covid in the past. These tests are not used to diagnose a current infection. 

What kind of sample is used to test for COVID19?

For the viral tests, the sample used is your mucus or saliva. This is collected from your nose or throat, or some places have you spit into a cup for a saliva sample. For antibody tests that do not give you your current Covid status, typically blood is drawn and used as the sample. 

What is the difference between a PCR test and an antigen test for COVID-19?

The main difference between these two tests is the way that they detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

PCR tests look for the presence of the virus’s genetic material in the sample that has been provided. By taking the sample and amplifying the DNA of the virus that may be present, scientists can then measure what is there and come back with a highly accurate result. Like all diagnostic tests, the accuracy is dependent on a variety of factors, for example: proper collection of the sample, proper storage and handling during shipment, or when the sample was collected during the patient’s infectious period. Due to the complex nature of this test, PCR results can take longer to get back. It generally takes a few days to get your results.

Antigen tests, also referred to as a “rapid response” test due to the quick turnaround time, works by detecting the presence of specific proteins on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Because these tests are looking for very specific proteins, a positive result means that you probably do have an infection. However, there is a much higher rate of false negatives with the rapid Covid test, which means a negative result from a rapid response test does not necessarily put you in the clear. Antigen tests are quick, from fifteen minutes to an hour to get your answer, but your doctor may advise a PCR test to confirm the result of the antigen test since they are not as accurate. 

Many people compare the “swab test vs rapid test” to understand which is better, and the answer is that the PCR test is considered more accurate.  

How do saliva tests compare to nasal swab tests for diagnosing COVID-19?

Nasal swabs and saliva collection are simply different ways to get a sample for the Covid test. With the swabbing technique, a long swab (basically a giant q-tip) is inserted into the nose or occasionally throat to collect a sample. Saliva samples are collected by having the patient spit into a cup, which some people find more comfortable than being swabbed. 

Many people ask the question, “Are saliva tests just as effective as nasal swabs to diagnose COVID19?” The answer is that it depends on the type of test that is run on the saliva or nasal swab sample. Other common questions are, “Is the saliva test a PCR test?” and, “What is the saliva covid test accuracy?” Both the saliva and nasal swab are the collection method, not the type of test. These types of samples can both be used for the PCR test or the antigen test.

Are there any at-home tests for COVID-19?

There are a few at home tests that have been granted emergency use authorization by the FDA. Essentially these tests include a sampling mechanism where you collect a nasal swab or saliva sample, and then send it for testing. Some include a device that you place your sample on and it analyzes it and delivers a positive or negative result to your smartphone within 20 minutes. The effectiveness of these tests has not been fully established, and some studies show that the accuracy is less than the PCR test. With very little research and data about these tests, it is difficult to provide exact numbers or information about how accurate they are. Most likely, your doctor will suggest that you get a PCR test to confirm the result of your at home testing. 

What is the most common type of Covid test? 

The most common type of Covid test is the PCR test, which is generally considered to be the “gold standard” of Covid testing. Because this type of test tends to have higher accuracy rates, PCR tests are relied upon by many medical professionals to determine whether or not their patients have Covid. 

How is the COVID-19 nasal swab test performed?

The nasal swab collection is performed by using a long q-tip to gather a sample from your nose. There are different depths and locations that can be swabbed. Those locations are:

  • Anterior Nares (Nasal) – swabbing inside the nostrils
  • Mid-turbinate – swabbing midway inside your nose
  • Nasopharyngeal – swabbing deep inside the nose, sometimes reaching the back of the throat

Once the swab has been swiped inside your nose, it is then placed in a tube and sent off for testing. 

Does the COVID-19 test hurt?

Many people wonder, “Exactly how far does the rapid covid test go up your nose? Does getting a PCR test hurt?” The answer is: it depends on what type of sample collection and the person who is collecting it. Different depths of the swabbing depend on where the collection is taking place; if it’s in the nostrils like a Anterior Nares sample or deep inside the nose like a Nasopharyngeal swab. The nasal swab covid test accuracy tends to be higher if taken from deeper in the nose because that is where there is a higher concentration of the virus, but other depths can be used for people who have conditions like nasal polyps or nose bleed. If you are unable to have your nose swabbed, you may have an oropharyngeal swab, which is collected from the middle part of your throat. 

The mouth swab covid test accuracy is similar to that of the nasal swabs. However, the nasopharyngeal swab is considered the standard for Covid tests since it tends to lead to the most accurate results. You can receive a nasopharyngeal swab rapid test or PCR test, since this is the method of collecting a sample. Some people find this swabbing uncomfortable or painful, but because it is just a quick swipe, most people find it no more painful than a flu shot or vaccination. Your doctor would be able to give you guidance on what type of swabbing is appropriate for you. 

What do I do if I’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19?

Click here for the latest CDC guidelines for those who have been exposed to COVID-19 

The most important things to do are: stay calm, stay home, and get tested for Covid. There are so many devastating effects of Covid and it is natural to be scared and anxious when you receive the dreaded news that you have been exposed. Keep in mind that the risks of serious symptoms increase with age, and that people younger than 65 generally are less at risk of serious side effects from Covid. 

While that may put your mind at rest, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the possibility that you might get an infection or spread it to others. Staying at home and following the CDC quarantine guidelines is important. You should stay at home for 14 days and monitor yourself for symptoms, as well as stay away from anyone who is a higher risk for Covid. Getting tested is also a good idea in order to find out if you have a Covid infection as well. 

How long after exposure to Covid should I get tested?

Getting the testing time right can be tricky, and there is no perfect answer to when you should get tested. If you get tested too early, you may not have enough of a viral load in your system to register. For example, if you are exposed to someone and get infected on the same day that you get tested, your test will probably come back negative. The odds of getting a false negative decrease if you wait to be tested until a few days after you were exposed or get tested a few days after your symptoms develop. Another option is to get a test immediately and then get retested after day seven or eight to confirm the first result. Your primary care physician may be able to give you more specific advice about the timing of your Covid test and give you recommendations on when you should get tested. 

What are the most common symptoms of Covid? 

According to the CDC, common symptoms of Covid include, but are not limited to:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Diarrhea

More severe symptoms that require immediate medical attention are:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

There is a wide range of symptoms and severity of conditions that have been reported, and anyone can have mild to severe reactions. Older adults and individuals with serious underlying medical conditions seem to be more at risk for developing complications from Covid. Symptoms can appear from 2-14 days after exposure, which is why the CDC continues to recommend a quarantine of 14 days. There are certain scenarios where you may be able to follow a modified quarantine procedure that is shortened, and you should consult your local public health authorities for the recommended quarantine for your community. Please contact your medical provider for any severe or concerning symptoms and for more information about the possible and common symptoms of Covid-19. 

Can I test positive for Covid without symptoms?

Yes, it is possible to be positive for Covid with no symptoms present. Dr. Anthony Fauci estimates that 40% of Covid patients are asymptomatic. This high rate of asymptomatic people shows that Covid testing is absolutely necessary in order to prevent accidentally spreading this deadly virus to those who are at high risk of being hospitalized or dying. 

When should I get tested?

In general, there are three scenarios where you should get tested for Covid-19.

  1. When you have Covid symptoms

For many people, it is a big red flag when they suddenly start coughing or lose their sense of smell. However, for people with chronic illness, it can be difficult to determine if the symptoms they are experiencing are due to Covid or their chronic illness. The most common symptoms of Covid are similar to other illnesses like seasonal allergies. Be on the lookout for new or unusual symptoms, or if a chronic condition suddenly becomes worse, and consult your doctor to determine if you should get a test.

  1. When you are exposed to someone who has Covid

As discussed above, whenever you are exposed to an individual with a confirmed positive Covid test, you should also get a Covid test. Because it is possible to have Covid without any symptoms, it’s important to get tested and know if you are positive so that you don’t inadvertently infect anyone else.

  1. When you are required to get tested 

There are many different scenarios where you will need to get tested, and many agencies are now requiring negative test results in order to participate in face-to-face meetings, conferences, or other in-person situations. Traveling abroad is another common scenario where you will need to be tested—many countries require a negative covid test when entering and leaving their borders. Without a negative test result, you may not be able to leave the country and return home. Whenever an organization requires a Covid test, you will need to get tested and provide the documentation to show that you are following their rules. 

How accurate are Covid tests? 

The accuracy of Covid tests depends on a variety of factors, including the type of test. PCR tests are the gold standard for Covid testing and are considered the most reliable type of test for SARS-CoV-2. Antigen tests are less accurate, but are used in situations where a quick test result is needed. 

All Covid tests have been cleared by the FDA for use by the Emergency Use Authorization, so the typical rigorous testing, vetting, and accuracy results for these test procedures are not available or simply do not exist. These tests are new because SARS-CoV-2 is new, so all numbers that assign an accuracy rate are approximate as research is still underway.

While there aren’t exact figures, there is some information about accuracy that exists, according to Harvard Medical School. In general, false negatives seem to occur more commonly than false positives. With false negatives, when you test negative but do actually have an infection, the rate was 20% when tested five days after symptoms began, but was much higher when tested earlier in the infection (up to 100%). Antigen tests tend to have more false negatives than PCR tests. Both PCR and antigen tests have false positive rates that are close to zero, and these false positives are thought to be due to lab contamination or other issues with the performed testing, not issues with the test itself.

Like any diagnostic test, the accuracy depends on a wide variety of factors. Careful sample collection, the conditions the samples are held in while being shipped to the lab, and the proper handling standards of the testing facility all play a part in the accuracy of the test. In addition, the timing of the sample collection can also factor in. Samples collected earlier in the infectious period are more likely to give false negatives due to the lower viral load at the beginning of the infection, while samples collected after symptoms have started have higher accuracy rates due to the increased presence of the virus. 

In general, if a test comes back positive, it is fairly certain that you do in fact have Covid. If your test comes back negative, that result is less definitive. If that negative result came from a rapid response test, then you and your doctor may want to get a PCR test to confirm that result. If you have been exposed to Covid and get a negative test result, you should talk to your doctor about your quarantine since you will most likely want to go through the quarantine process to be on the safe side and not risk passing Covid to anyone else. If you are having symptoms but get a negative test, you should consult your doctor and continue to self-isolate and follow quarantine protocols. 

I’ve already had Covid, should I get tested again? 

If you are having any signs or symptoms of Covid-19, the CDC recommends getting tested regardless of any prior infection. However, if you are exposed to Covid and you have tested positive and recovered from Covid in the past three months, you do not need to quarantine or get retested (as new variants are discovered, these guidelines may change, so keep an eye out for updated recommendations). If you develop new symptoms however, you should get tested. If you develop symptoms again during those three months, you may need to get retested if there is no other cause for those symptoms. You should consult with your doctor. Although it is rare, reinfection with Covid-19 is possible. 

I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to get tested?

As with the previous question, the CDC does recommend that anyone with any signs or symptoms of Covid-19 gets tested, even if you are partially or fully vaccinated. If you develop symptoms, you should get tested, stay home, and follow quarantine protocols. Although the risks of becoming infected with Covid after being fully vaccinated are low, it is possible, and there is a small chance that vaccinated people may be able to spread Covid to others. Getting tested helps you to know your current status and protect those around you. In addition, there may be certain situations where you are required to get tested, like when flying internationally. 

Where can I get tested?

When you are looking for a COVID-19 test, it is important to find a trusted and experienced testing facility to process your results. BioCollections Worldwide has been on the frontline of developing accurate testing for diseases for over 20 years. We began creating our Covid test prior to the pandemic being declared in the United States when we foresaw the possibility of the SARS-CoV-2 becoming widespread. 

Due to our feet on the ground approach, our Covid testing response continues to be fast and accurate, with our PCR tests taking as little as 11 hours to turn around. These same-day results for the more accurate PCR test can give you peace of mind and trusted insight into your health status when you need it the most. 

Our facilities are located in:

  • Miami
  • Tampa
  • Orlando
  • Los Angeles
  • Las Vegas
  • Oakland
  • International affiliates and subsidiaries in 5 countries

When you are looking for high quality and trusted COVID-19 testing, look no further than BioCollections Worldwide.

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